This is a day of symmetry. Mid-afternoon, 2:21 p.m. Central Time, the sun will float directly above the equator and from that moment until deep December, it will be fall. That moment of solar hovering will signify the autumnal equinox, with the day and night of equal duration. Tomorrow, the days shorten, the nights lengthen, and we spin toward winter, but so gradually we hardly notice.
Then, one October morning we open the door and the lawn is rimed with frost. We leave the house for errands, in shirtsleeves as usual, and halfway to the car we realize it is chilly and return for a sweater, a jacket. Flowers fade and hang their heads, hydrangeas turn a camel brown, and look sturdy as a camel, only to turn to paper in our hands.
Leaves rustle high in the trees, some ready to release, happy in the natural order of things. The sidewalk is blanketed in gold as ginkgo trees say goodnight. Oak leaves hang on, like sleepy tots, overtired and cranky but desperate not to miss anything. They will drop and you will rake, again and again, never quite finishing the job. Sometime after Thanksgiving the first snow covers the stragglers, and you ignore what’s left until spring.
Maples, the true stars of autumn, will blaze and glimmer, and we will comment on the palette, nodding sagely as we discuss the impact of drought or rain or summer heat on the vibrancy of color. We will mispronounce “foliage” but no one notices. Down here everyone says it the same way. To do otherwise is to put on airs.
The sun slants at a most pleasing angle. Has been settling into its autumnal slouch for a few weeks now. The golden hour glints more golden, the blue hour seems more the shade of the Crayola crayon, Midnight Blue, darker, somehow, softer and sadder.
Mornings arrive later. Sleep is restored.
Below us, past the equator, our friends will be preparing for spring. In their hemisphere Christmas arrives in summer, and to contemplate such things confuses and confounds us. The idea of Santas in beards and red shorts confounds most of us, too. Autumn must be crisp and bright. Winter cold.
Even when autumn is warm until November, when winter plays hide and seek, refusing to deliver on childhood dreams of snow and sledding, when shrubs bud too early, we will have some frosty mornings, at least some little bit of snow, enough to remind us to wind the stem of our internal watch, the one that marks, not hours, but years gone by, warm kitchens, grandmothers baking, perhaps. Or boisterous kids with red cheeks and running noses getting in one more football play before the light fails completely. Frozen hands on handlebars, too stiff to safely steer toward home.
We bring the fall and winter in, nestled in our sweaters, our coats, our woolen hats and mittens. Maybe they, too, seek a little warmth in spite of the cold that defines them. Summer stays outside, playing past bedtimes, making a racket. Summer wears us out. Autumn knows we need our rest. Winter insists we conserve our strength.
Autumn whispers to us, subtle but sure. We might not hear it today at exactly 2:21 p.m., but if we stay attentive, we will hear it. There is wisdom to be had, a centering and calm, if we stay still long enough to listen.